Hiding behind the golden chapters of history is not a sign of strength but clear escapism. Quoting from the glorious past of Islam is easy but facing the many challenges of contemporary times is much more difficult. “The Golden age of Islam”, roughly spanning through the eighth to the thirteen centuries C.E, was a period of scientific and philosophical feats. Constantly referring to it even eight centuries later, with an air of familiarity and enthusiasm, is cause for introspection, rather than celebration.
Muslims today comprise 1.6 billion of the total population. Despite these large numbers they have taken the back seat in every significant matter concerning the world. The picture they present is as dry as a desert. A survey conducted by the American international journal, Physics Today, reported a grim fact: that Muslim countries have, per thousand people, a total of nine scientists, engineers and technicians. There are approximately 1,840 universities but only 312 of them have scholars who have published journal articles. Of the fifty most published of these universities, 26 are in Turkey, 9 are in Iran, 3 each in Malaysia, Egypt and Pakistan, two in Uganda, and rest of the Arab countries have 1. Not a single university in Muslim countries ranks among the world’s 100 best universities. The King Fahd University had the distinction of being ranked 160th in the year 2013. It has slipped to 421 in the latest ranking of world universities.
Until now, only three Muslim countries/ scientists have won the Nobel Prize so for: Abdul Salaam of Pakistan in 1979 for physics, Dr Ahmad Zawail in 1999 and Dr Abdul Aziz Sancar of Turkey in 2005, both for chemistry.
The Arabs, who comprise 5.55 percent of the world’s population today, were once proud of their language and played a pivotal role in the Golden Age of Islam. Today, they produce dismal figures. According to UN’s 2003 Human Development Report, they publish only 1.1 percent of the world’s books. In the field of scientific inventions, the word invention has become Greek to Arabs. According to a study done by Image journal, South Korea won 1,62,328 patents between 1980 and 2000 in comparison to nine Gulf countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and U.A.E., who won a combined total of 370. Another study found that in year 2018-19, in the US, 11,809 scientific papers were published, in the UK 5,876, in the Netherlands 2,050, in Germany 1889, in China 661, but 57 Islamic countries couldn’t go beyond 850 together. Turkey topped the list with 219 scientific publications.
This may sound in bad taste, but a cartoon published in Arab World News showed three scientific areas in which Islamic countries excel today: Desalination, Falconry, and Camel Reproduction.
Certainly, we have made ourselves no less than a laughing stock. I fear whether we have any right to claim those brilliant souls that were Al Razi (Razes), the greatest of all medieval physicians, Avicenna (Ibn Sina), the physician and philosopher who authored the canon of medicine, Al-Farabi, the polymath who excelled in Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy besides writing treatises on physics, psychology, alchemy and cosmology. Not to forget Al-Khawarzami, who gave us the concept of algebra. Their great texts have been sold in a Dutch auction. I am reminded of Bernard Lewis, the great historian, who said that “all the periods of Renaissance, the Reformation, even Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment passed unnoticed in the Muslim world. People who were disciples, i.e., the West, now became teachers, and those who had been masters became pupils.”
The civilisation that had produced cities, libraries, observatories and opened itself to the world had regressed and become closed, resentful, violent and hostile to discourse and innovation. Despite all this havoc, if one thing Muslims do not lack, it is pride. They take pride in their lost old heritage but that is that not an answer to the crises they are caught in. What is needed today is less pride and more self-criticism. Now that the entire world is battling a little virus, the time has come for oil-rich Arab countries to pump oil into knowledge and ignite the light for future generations.
The writer is a teacher. [email protected] .com